While the number of smokers has halved over the last 30 years, there are still over 10 million people in the UK who continue to smoke. “No Smoking Day” on Wednesday 11th March aims to further reduce these numbers and improve their health outlook.
It’s well known that smoking causes major health problems, like lung cancer and heart disease, but did you know it can also seriously damage your eyesight? Recent research shows that being a smoker can double or triple your chances of sight loss. For example, conditions like macular degeneration, cataracts and vascular disease are all adversely affected by smoking.
Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in adults over 65 and smoking is the single greatest avoidable risk factor. Macular degeneration is caused by a breakdown in the delicate cells of the macula - the most central part of the retina at the back of your eye. When the macula is damaged, your central vision is impaired, making it difficult to see fine detail, such as small print or features on people’s faces. It is estimated that being a smoker increases your risk of developing macular degeneration by as much as three times. Also, you are more likely to progress to more severe, disabling forms of the disease.
Cataracts are a clouding of the lens inside your eye. They cause blurred, misty vision and are part of the normal ageing process. However, being a smoker greatly increases your chances of developing cataracts – by as much as three times. The odds shorten the longer you’ve been a smoker and the heavier you smoke. Furthermore, smokers are more likely to develop cataracts at a younger age and to progress to denser, more advanced forms that often require surgery.
Smokers are more prone to developing hardened arteries and blocked blood vessels throughout the body. If the blood supply to one of your eyes is affected, the result can be the sudden loss of part or all of the vision in that eye. Unfortunately, this damage is often permanent and irreversible. If you have pre-existing vascular conditions like diabetes and blood pressure you are at particular risk.
The good news is that the risk of smoking-related eye problems reduces as soon as you stop. Furthermore, the dangers decline steadily the longer you remain a non-smoker. If you would like to stop smoking, help and advice is available through your GP or pharmacist. Also, the “No Smoking Day” website can offer help and support. (www.nosmokingday.org.uk). So, don’t delay - “be proud to be a quitter” and join the thousands of smokers pledging to make 11th March “the day you start to stop”. As well as enjoying better general health, you’ll help preserve your eyesight too